Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there." Francis Scott Key, 1814

On Saturday, June 30th, at the bottom of Angora ridge in South Lake Tahoe California, a fire started that raged out of control for days. The conflagration consumed over 200 homes and buildings. Over 35 years ago, FlyGuy along with his father and brother built a small cabin in that forest. By Sunday night the fire storm had laid waste to the structure and more importantly, the beautiful forest. One week later I drove my 85 year old father up to the property expecting complete and utter devastation. We brought documentation to prove we had a home in the affected area, allowing us to get past the security checkpoint. As we drove closer to our home it became obvious what we would find. The Red Cross had set up aid stations along the main road. A Red Cross volunteer flagged us down and asked us if we needed anything. He suggested we take a rake and shovel with us to sift through the debris for possessions. They gave us that and more and we proceeded up the hill driving by home after home, not one was standing. I stopped the car just around the corner from our property and told my father I wanted to tell him something.

My father is a clean freak, a genuine maid in a man. I have known for decades that to keep up with him is impossible and no matter what I did, the cabin would end up way below his standard. I would use the place, he would show up after that and I would get the usual phone call. I explained to my daughters at an early age, that grandpa just did things differently and that I considered what he was doing was like trying to sweep all the dust off of the moon. I was explaining this to them because one of my daughters had just asked me, “Dad, why does grandpa always sweep the street?” “Because that is what grandpa does”, I said. He would sweep the driveway into the street and he would continue for reasons he was never able to explain. I am lucky as my father is one of my best friends. There I was looking at him in the car last Saturday, telling him I had something I had to get off my chest. “What is it”, he said. I said, “Dad the last time I was up here I left dishes in the sink.” “I knew it!” he said. Then he started to laugh and I drove around the corner.

I pulled into the end of the driveway and we were all silent as we looked at what was once our home, the one we built with our own hands. To my utter amazement, there in front of me, nailed to a large cedar tree was our house number sign, intact. Years ago my father had cut a piece of cedar and bought some metal numbers, then put the whole thing together. It was a street number sign for our house that was visible from the street as the house sat back on the property. When he hung the sign, he put a small American flag at the corner of it. Out of all the devastation, the sign and the flag, our flag, survived. The picture above is the sign as it was found by me. The back of the sign was scorched black. That moment in time when I realized what it was I was looking at, will stay with me forever. Amazingly not one person perished in the blaze and there were only minor injuries to a few firefighters. We have insurance, we will rebuild and the wonderful memories will pass on to the next generation and the one after that.


One of my most memorable flight experiences was one fourth of July that I was working. I am a big fireworks fan, just ask my children. Every year FlyGuy makes a trek to the local fireworks stand and buys whatever we need. Next we find an empty field out in the country, set up all of our explosives and wait for darkness.

This one summer I had to work on the 4th and it was killing me. The last flight of the day was from Salt Lake City to Dallas. I was thinking to myself that it was going to get dark just after takeoff and there are no major cities at all between here and there. I thought there was no chance of seeing any fireworks that night. You can easily see fireworks from altitude and they look pretty cool. You’re looking down on them and that is a different perspective than looking up at them.

If you draw a straight line between Salt Lake and Dallas you can see that you fly over a lot of nothing. The Uinta mountains followed by the high plateaus of western Colorado, Great Sand Dunes national monument, the Sangre de Christo mountains, then the High Plains. Flight visibility was excellent that night, at least 100 miles. Looking out of the windscreen gave us a sweeping view of about 200 miles. Just as twilight arrived I witnessed an incredible thing.

Off to our right I saw a flash of light. I looked in that direction and realized that a fireworks show had just started in some little town, village, or reservation, that was not on any map I had. I was looking at the fireworks show when the captain said, “There are more over here”. Sure enough in some unknown little out of the way place, another tiny community started a fireworks show. Then in front of us, 20 miles away from the show on my side, more fireworks started going off. Then 20 miles south of that and 15 miles east of that, other towns tucked away in obscurity celebrated with rockets of their own, all at the same time. As we sailed along at 500 miles an hour we witnessed the tiniest parts of America lighting the sky below for 200 miles around us with red, green, purple, blue, white, silver, and gold. We could even see those smiley face displays. At any one time we could see 4 to 6 fireworks shows. North, east, or south, the colors came to us at 180,000 miles per second as we sat in silence not quite believing what we were seeing. This went on for about 30 minutes until we flew over the continental divide. The High Plains is a real no mans land, yet even there we saw a few glittering displays.

Soon it was time to start our descent and checklists. It was an unremarkable descent, arrival, and landing. I would rather have been at home, earthbound with my family. That flight is one I will always treasure. It is something I wish everyone who appreciates the fourth could see. Be Safe, FlyGuy.